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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Wesleyan agrees to divestment vote in exchange for end to pro-Palestinian encampment

    After three weeks of protest and days of negotiations, student organizers at Wesleyan University packed up the last of a pro-Palestinian encampment Monday after striking a multipronged deal with administrators Saturday who say the university is committed to starting the divestment process.

    Under the agreement, the Wesleyan Board of Trustees pledged to vote on proposed changes to the university’s investment policy as early as Sept. 22.

    The May 18 resolution marks the first formal agreement between a university and pro-Palestinian protesters in Connecticut after students launched Gaza solidarity encampments at Yale, the University of Connecticut, Wesleyan and Trinity College to call on their administrations to disclose and divest from companies tied to the war in Gaza.

    On Monday student organizers described the agreement as promising.  However, students said the resolution, which includes a disclosure of defense industries and Israeli companies under Wesleyan’s investment portfolio, ultimately falls short of a formal commitment to divestment, endowment transparency and a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that protesters pined for.

    “While we celebrate these actions, we are deeply disappointed that the University has delayed the processes of commitment to full divestment, disclosure, academic boycott, and continues to target vulnerable student protestors,” Wesleyan University Students for Justice in Palestine said in a statement on social media Sunday.

    “We remain determined to attain full disclosure, divestment, and academic boycott next year, and we will fight to ensure all students protesting the genocide in Gaza and the ongoing invasion of Rafah are not charged,” they added.

    Israeli officials and their supporters have repeatedly denied accusations of genocide, arguing that the nation’s attacks on Gaza, which have killed 35,000 Palestinians, are necessary to defend Israel after Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages on Oct. 7.

    According to Wesleyan officials, 1.7% of the university’s endowment was invested in aerospace and defense companies and another 0.4% was invested in Israeli software companies as of Dec. 31, 2023. The university described the companies as mostly “component and parts suppliers with broad commercial and aerospace applications” and said that “currently, none are directly involved in the manufacturing of weapons.”

    Luné Maldonado, a Wesleyan freshman who serves as a communications strategist for the Wesleyan Palestine Solidarity Encampment, said student protesters plan to return “stronger than ever” in anticipation of the Board of Trustees divestment vote this fall.

    “The agreement is a first step and progress in terms of getting our university to divest from the U.S.-sponsored Israeli war machine that is causing havoc in Gaza and massacring Palestinians. But obviously, it is not enough and we’re more galvanized than ever to continue fighting in order to reach the divestment,” Maldonado said in an interview with the Courant Monday.

    “If they say no, we’re ready with the actions appropriate to show the administration that we will not take no for an answer,” Maldonado added.

    In response to the agreement, Stacey Sobel, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut, said the organization was “deeply disturbed to see Wesleyan University capitulating to the demands of student protesters who have blatantly violated school policies.”

    “Negotiating with SJP — a group that glorified Hamas terrorism and continues to fuel antisemitism on campuses across the country — is dangerous. Failing to acknowledge or offer any support for Jewish students in the agreement adds insult to injury. And, rewarding those who violate the rules only incentivizes more serious escalation in the future,” Sobel said in a statement posted on X Tuesday.

    Pro-Palestinian protesters across the state have denied accusations of antisemitism. Community guidelines for the Wesleyan encampment expressly stated that participants “stand against discrimination of any kind including Islamaphobia, antisemitism, racism, sexism and transphobia.”

    In a statement to the university community Saturday, Wesleyan President Michael Roth said the university’s negotiations with student protesters were “rooted in a shared affection for Wesleyan and a desire that the institution be aligned as fully as possible with its community’s values.”

    “It is always important that we maintain a safe enough environment on campus for people who disagree with one another and who embrace opportunities to learn from people with various points of view,” Roth said. “I am hopeful that soon we can redirect our collective efforts to urging our lawmakers, both here in Connecticut and in Washington D.C., to do everything in their power to create a resolution in Israel and Gaza that will result in the return of the hostages, an end to the fighting, and a commitment to a process that will recognize the rights of all parties.”

    Roth said students will not face disciplinary sanctions for participating in the encampment however he said that “normal university regulations will be enforced” after the Monday morning cleanup deadline.

    “The protesters agreed not to disrupt Reunion and Commencement events. Individuals who refuse to comply will be suspended and face legal action,” Roth said.

    In a social media post, student organizers said Tuesday that they made no such agreement.

    “There is no language in our agreement preventing protests this weekend,” the students wrote. “As Israel bombards 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah in the eighth month of this horrifying genocide, we refuse to continue life as normal or accept this agreement as the end of our solidarity. We expect the university to respect every student’s right to protest.”

    Students erected the Wesleyan Palestine Solidarity Encampment on April 28, amassing more than 100 tents during the 20-day occupation of a section of campus known as North College, according to organizers.

    Early in the protest, Roth said that as long as the protests stayed nonviolent and did not disrupt campus operations, Wesleyan “would not attempt to clear the encampment,” even though it violated university policies.

    The decision stood in contrast to actions taken by leaders at Yale and UConn, who have been criticized by free speech advocates for their decision to arrest peaceful protesters at pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

    On April 22, Yale police arrested 47 students and one non-student during an early morning crackdown on an encampment on Beinecke Plaza. Four more demonstrators, two of whom were students, were arrested at Yale during a protest on the night of May 1 after officers dismantled and cleared a second encampment on Cross Campus a day earlier.

    Yale has said that the students who face charges also received referrals to the university for disciplinary action, including reprimand, probation and suspension.

    In Storrs, UConn police arrested 24 students and one former student on April 30 during a sweep of an encampment at Dove Tower. Police also arrested one graduate student on April 25 when students attempted to pitch tents while establishing the encampment.

    After the arrests, a UConn spokesperson declined to comment on whether the student would undergo a conduct review.

    Maldonado said that Wesleyan should not receive praise for its decision to refrain from the use of police force on student activists.

    “We just see it as the bare minimum and we stand in solidarity with our fellow student organizers at UConn and at Yale who had the police crack down on them,”  Maldonado said.

    In exchange for voluntarily clearing the encampment Monday, Wesleyan agreed to suspend “all formal judicial charges related to violations of Wesleyan s policies on disruptions (i.e. establishing the encampment without prior approval) and chalking in the immediate encampment area.”

    Per the agreement reached Saturday, representatives of Students for Justice in Palestine will meet with members of the Board of Trustees Investment committee over the next week to “present their perspectives” on university investment policies.

    The university said its Committee for Investor Responsibility will work with “various university constituencies” to recommend changes to Wesleyan’s Socially Responsible Investment policy and forward their proposal to the Board of Trustees at its earliest fall meeting for a vote. Additionally, the agreement said the committee will “explore and implement strategies to foster greater transparency within the campus community about how Wesleyan’s endowment is invested.”

    The university also agreed to convene an ad-hoc committee to issue policy recommendations concerning the continuation of study-abroad programs and academic partnerships with Israeli universities as well as any potential recruitment by defense companies by January 2025. Wesleyan agreed to come to an official decision on such matters by the end of the 2025 Spring Semester.

    In the resolution, Wesleyan agreed to implement initiatives to bring displaced Palestinian scholars to campus, provide scholarships to displaced Palestinian students and facilitate programming featuring Palestinian artists.

    Among other measures, the agreement also paves a path for the review of Wesleyan’s Middle Eastern Studies minor and a potential relaunch of the Turath program house, which “previously served as the focal point of Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim cultural and religious activities on campus,” according to the resolution.

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